Seattle Pacific University executives sued over anti-LGBTQ hiring practices

Seattle Pacific University students and staff have sued board leaders for refusing to end the university’s discriminatory hiring practices.

Chris Grygiel/AP

Seattle Pacific University students and staff are suing school board members for refuse to hire people in same-sex relationships.

The court case alleges that the six defendants, members of the university’s board of trustees, use their position of power to “advance the interests of a religious denomination at the expense of students, alumni, staff and faculty of the ‘university’. He goes on to say that hiring practices at SPU, a private Christian university, prohibit people in same-sex relationships from full-time employment.

The filing comes after Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced in late July that his office was investigating possible discrimination charges. The University complaint lodged against the Attorney General’s office after learning of the investigation.

In a press releaseFerguson said SPU admits it refuses to hire gay faculty, despite protests from students, staff and community members.

“Many Seattle Pacific University students, faculty, and others have contacted my office to file complaints or express deep concern that the university administration’s policies unlawfully violate the civil rights of Washingtonians,” Ferguson said in the statement.

Seattle Pacific University acting president Pete Menjares, one of six executives sued, said on July 28 statement that the university was asking a federal court to uphold its right to make hiring decisions based on religion.

The lawsuit argues that while the university may be faith-based, its primary function is education. Moreover, the trial says that SPU is incorporated under the Washington Nonprofit Corporations Act and does not meet the definition of a religious society.

The lawsuit also refers to another case that went to the Supreme Court in Washington, Woods vs. Union Gospel Mission of Seattle, which ruled that state religious exemption laws do not protect nonprofit employment practices unless the employees are ministers. The U.S. Supreme Court denied the mission a writ of certiorari, stating that a religious exemption would become “permission to discriminate.”

Students protested last May, after the board voted to maintain controversial hiring practices, despite support for change from many faculty, staff and students, the Seattle Times reported. And at graduation, KIRO-7 reportedthe students handed pride flags to Menjares instead of shaking his hand.

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